Natina Kaih admits she did not want a teacher visiting her home. She was embarrassed by the rough neighborhood where she and her children lived and by the stench of urine in the halls of her apartment building. She didn’t want another person judging her.
So when her Washington, D.C. elementary school offered a home visit, she declined. But her children nagged. The other Stanton Elementary students who had visits from teachers had their pictures posted on the bulletin board. Finally, Kaih relented. When teachers for two of her children arrived at her apartment, they played with her children, and they played with her cat. They asked her what she hoped for her children and how the school could help.
“I didn’t feel looked down on. They didn’t talk at me, they talked with me,” Kaih told educators and advocates gathered last week at the U.S. Department of Education. That first home visit, she said, led to deeper engagement in her children’s education, and it led to better attendance.
“It made it easier to want to send my kids to school, because they were enthused about going to school,” she says.
Kaih and her children are part of an ambitious home visiting and family engagement partnership between the Flamboyan Foundation and 27 D.C. public elementary and charter schools. The Family Engagement Partnership, which builds on the work of the Sacramento-based Parent Teacher Home Visit Project and on the Education Department’s Parent Engagement Framework, also includes academic meetings updating families on their children’s progress and activities for learning at home.
A study released this fall by Johns Hopkins University researchers shows that the approach is having a positive impact: Students whose families receive a home visit had 24 percent fewer absences – or about three fewer days – than similar students who did not receive a home visit. The students with home visits were also more likely to read at or above grade level.
Kristin Ehrgood, president of the Flamboyan Foundation explains the program’s success simply. “Families are experts in their own children,” she says. “Educators are experts in pedagogy…,” she says. We need a true partnership built on respect and trust.”
The comments came at a gathering hosted by the Education Department as part of the federal Every Student, Every Day initiative. The cross-sector initiative — which also involves the White House and departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice – aims to reduce chronic absence by 10 percent annually. In Spring 2016, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights will for the first time release chronic absence data showing how many students miss 15 or more days a year.
The initiative will include efforts to improve data collection, mentoring and other strategies proven to reduce chronic absence. Family engagement remains key to getting students to school everyday.
“I realized that if I did not had trust from my families, they were not going to send their kids to school,” Heather Hairston, principal of C.W. Harris Elementary School in Southeast D.C., said at Friday’s event. When she instituted the family engagement program, her school saw increases in attendance, decreases in truancy and double digital gain in proficiency.
For Natina Kaih, that first home visit years ago set the tone for her involvement – and her children’s success – at Stanton Elementary School. Her children are now in middle school and reaping the benefits of that early engagement, she says. As proof, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. It’s a certificate showing that her daughter is reading above grade level. “My attitude didn’t change overnight,” she acknowledges, “but it started with that first visit.”